Brief Glimpses of Old Man
Old Man Geoff Guest a member of the stolen generation lived a traditional life learning all the healing plants and ways till taken as a 3 yr old. As a seven year old he was placed into forced labour on a large pastoral property where he would learn nature’s ways from Indigenous workers. When sixteen Geoff went from India through the Himalayan Khyber Pass into the back of China with the USA army taking fifty horses which Geoff had caught and trained. There Geoff became competent in the old traditional rural medicine ways and took on a field doctor surgeon role when they were attacked. Geoff uses his knowledge of the look and taste of the medicine plants of Australia to locate the Chinese medicine plants in the Wild. From his earliest childhood Geoff became profoundly linked to every aspect of the environment. To walk with Geoff on his land is to be shown that everything there speaks to him - the animals, the birds, the flowers, the smells in the air, the taste of the leaves. They loudly proclaim their healing power or act a signals to show him where grows what he is looking for. There’s so much to learn from Old Man.
Being with Family Old Man remains fully present in the here and now as he walks through Top End bush ten kms from his home. Everything is familiar; the rocky outcrops, and the trees and shrubs. The rock pools. The old tin mines. It is all part of his extended family. Everything ‘talks’ to him. To see a tree is to see a familiar tree. He has seen it many times before in differing times of the year. He has watched it grow over decades. He has rode passed it on horseback with the boys. He notices and knows that is happening to it. Moisture flow. Sap flow. Seed growth. New flowers, New leaves. And he knows the pollinators and spots their absence and notes the direction of the wind. Geoff knows this one as the narrow leaf ironbark. Its oils have healing potency. He also knows where all of the other similar trees grow in the surrounding 400 square kilometres. He has zigzagged the land on foot and horseback for years. He smells essence in the wind and knows the wild bush horses will be in a particular valley where a particular shrub has fresh leaf growth that the horses love. And Geoff knows where to put out the molasses so that its sweet aroma will reach that valley 7 Kms away. It will attract the mob of horses so he can see the new foals for future engaging. And Geoff uses this deep attuning to know which of 100 or more examples of a tiny healing plant that he can see around him that has the most potency for a specific healing task. (Someone without respect and attunement who knows of this species may randomly pick one and find it does not heal.) Geoff’s way of being is in part what may be meant by being connected to Dreaming.
Abundance I sense I would not have lasted more than a day or two. A dangerous place. Hot and dry. Jagged rocks. No water. Sparse vegetation. Little shade. In my high spot I can see this extends to the horizon in all directions. Thankfully I am with Old Man and a few Belgium Biology Professors. Old man points to the tallest termite mound near the tallest water. That’s the place to do a short dig for cool water. Makes sense when you know this. That’s why both are the tallest in the place. Then Old Man commences to reveal that we are surrounded with more things of practical value than a local shopping centre. I have been surrounded by every conceivable resource and could not see them. Nutritional fruits and vegetables, and legumes of great diversity. Bark and leaves and flowers and nuts and sap and pith and nectar for diverse uses. Stopping bleeding. For those lacking particular vitamins or minerals. For those with infection. Those with different kinds of pain. Or those with bleeding. For those with diarrhoea or constipation. Or even those who need to have a clothes peg or make a comfortable bed. This is a glimpse of the pervasive practical wisdom of Old Man.
Moving Well Old Man has always moved well. He learnt from Elders when he was very young how to walk anywhere with bare feet. There is a way of having a very ‘light’ ‘empty’ foot that watches intently where its landing and that slides slightly forward in what could be called a ‘scuffing’ motion that rolls sharp bits and prickles till it’s safe to place one’s weight. And after a time one gets attuned to this so it can happen fast. And now science is telling us that experiencing the Earth’s Negative charge through our bare feet has significant wellness benefits. And Old Man has a very long stride and a very short arm movement so if you look at the top he seems to be walking slowly though I have to break into a jog to keep up with him. And in engaging with people he acutely attends to how they sit and stand and move in gravity. This is the starting place for wellness. A very close second is nutrition – what we eat and how it’s prepared. Geoff’s constant theme – completely stop the intake of the two white deaths – sugar and flour. And there is more than this – much more.
Weaving It starts with having enough difference and weaving them together in precisely ordered ways. Regular repeated patterns are another essential. And stacking the various threads close together. A few red, a few black, a yellow, then a few white, back to black. And the colours from nature are fast and stay the same. With repeated washing the closely woven cloth does not become a dirty brown; rather, remaining vibrant and lively. The eye readily discerns the geometric pattern even when the cloth is rolled or folded or wrapped around a dancing body. And Old Man repeats all of this with the youth who come to stay. There is integrating of purpose. There is respecting of difference that increases in vibrancy. There are clear limits and boundaries with freedom to move together with others. Everyone knows what is happening. There is regularity. Each boy’s horse matches his behaviour and mirrors it back to him. Stay calm and you get a good ride. The boys remain whole in their separateness and quickly learn to work closely together on horseback in herding up the young and flighty bulls and bringing them back as a calm mob to base camp and then all settling down to hear more of Old Mans stories weaving together beliefs, feelings, and actions that a full of fun and joy of life with boys then climbing through the tree branches re-enacting the story of the competing possums deciding to cooperate in sharing the piece of fruit.
Unravelling So, what is going on here? How did Old Man carry out community healing with 24 dysfunctional young men? What can we learn from him today? Every sentence in the above paragraph is stacked with implications. It is stacked with metaphors. Geoff uses metaphors all the time. Those interested and intrigued are invited to reflect on it. The boys sent to Old Man have no boundaries back home. In their communities what’s not acceptable one day is ignored the next. While cohesion may be said to be important at home, the boys typically experience pervasive incoherence. At Old Man’s place there are firmly set boundaries and regular non negotiable patterns. Geoff will often use weaving as a metaphor in his stories. The threads are all interwoven just as Old Man is constantly weaving the boys together in activities. Just like the different coloured fibres Old Man always recognised that the boys all have significant differences in capability, temperament, physical strength, coordination, stamina and the like. And just like the different coloured fibres combine to make recognisable patterns, Old Man constantly gives continually recognition to the boys – positive reinforcement for any little or big thing that they do well. Old man will also thank them for doing something before he even asks them to do it. ‘Thanks Geoffrey, could you bring me the rope over there?’ And each of the boys develops their own colour and flare. Old Man shows profound respect and receives it back from the boys. And this respect soon is extended by boys to the other boys. And any problematics are quickly interrupted by changing a context and the essence of the new way is woven into one of the stories that night or the following morning. Geoff uses metaphor to introduce the better beliefs, feelings, and actions. For example, two boys fighting over the new saddle will have it used by another boy as a reward for cooperating well. The story of the young possums sharing the piece of fruit reinforces sharing and cooperating as good community values and Old Man selects the two boys to climb the branches and illustrate the story in their own new behaviour.
Old Man’s Natural Ways Old man has ways of manifesting. He senses and makes use of patterns that connect. For example, horses are communal animals. They crave companionship. Old man has a rope around the horse’s neck and gently pulls the horses neck sideways; never a direct counter pull to the front as the horse is the stronger. The horse soon has Old Man as the stronger and will be submissive. A wild horse that Old Man has isolated in a yard will seek Old Man as a companion. It will walk up to Old Man and sniff his neck as a gesture of submission. From this relating the horse takes its mood and state from Old Man. It will mirror Old Man. And Old Man relates with the boys the same as he relates to the horses. Gentle, firm, and guiding. And the horses become mirrors that reflect the boy back to the boy. And after a time the boys at some level get this and commence taking cues from the horse to change their own way of being. And Old Man is alert to every subtle nuance of his surroundings as he gets the profound interconnectedness of everything with everything and he selects the longer path to walk back from the second yard to the house with the two troubled boys and a horse as Old Man senses the need for a little extra time to settle the boys before they return to the others. Old Mans way is in an important sense total. Totally every minute detail is contributing to these boys transforming in ways that are tapping their unique potentials. Old man would be pull off his feet every time if he attempted to directly resist any mature horse. They are too powerful. The same applies to the combined power of 24 boys. Instead Old Man gently engages with group forces and senses how the group mood attunes and alters during the day so that there is a time for the various activities – times when they will settle down while waiting for food and smelling what’s to come as they listen to the stories of Old Man. Later it’s the time to all saddle up and go for a very fast gallop through the country side and creeks.
Worldview Many people who go to be with, and learn from Old Man for a while report that they can't make any sense out of what they are seeing. It looks like 'regular farm work'. Why would that work? These boys could go to other farms all over Australia and nothing much would change. So, how is a stay at Old Man's place different? The glimpses of Old Man's Way in this series have been spotted by a person mentored in noticing transforming processes that others would never see. At close to 90 years of age and very fit, Old Man has years of life experience. So, how would professional mums with children go about adopting some of his natural ways? Reading, absorbing and reflecting upon these glimpses is one starting place. Another possible place is beginning to take on what may be called Old Man's Worldview - how he views the world and everything in it. This view is at the same time a way of being in the world. Old Man has profound respect for himself along with profound respect for every aspect of nature. He also has profound respect for everyone he meets. Old Man is superb in giving recognition to others. He is accepting of others in all of their strengths and weaknesses. He is superb in setting up contexts for success. He knows that timing is important. Sometimes the time is not right, so he will set up a time. Old Man accentuates the positive and introduces alternatives for problematic responses. In all of this there is the total absence of any fault finding, blaming, judging, or condemning. He will firmly interrupt. He will often surprise and dramatically change the context. He can create confusion followed up quickly by curiosity. Being in Old Man’s very presence is transformative. I sense personal delight and that for the time being, I am the very centre of his universe. I sense a profound acceptance of who I am. So, how to have a state within in you, an energy, a vibe, a mood that makes you and others feel fabulous? Set that intention and ease into it